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Space Shot: Genzyme Center, Cambridge, MA

At the Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the sunshine is everywhere.

Space Shot: Genzyme Center, Cambridge, MA

Rick Mattila should be able to expense his shoes. As Genzyme's director of environmental affairs, he has worn his treads thin squiring eco-conscious governors, mayors, foreign dignitaries, and inquisitive journalists alike around the Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of only 32 platinum LEED- certified buildings in the country (the highest environmental standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council), the biotech company's world headquarters has drawn in some 10,000 visitors with its supergreen design. But being ecologically correct is actually a fringe benefit, says Mattila. The company's real aim was to keep its 900 employees happy, healthy, and workin' wicked hahd.

The tour begins at the bottom of the 12-story atrium, where visitors are blasted with the building's most striking feature: a deluge of natural light. The flood begins on the roof, where seven heliostats—basically large mirrors—track the sun and redirect it through a skylight and down onto prismatic louvers of multifaceted glass. The louvers diffuse the light and send it along polished-aluminum panels, through adjustable reflective vertical blinds, and cascading onto a glass chandelier that throws rainbows throughout the space; ultimately, the light is caught by a series of stainless steel—lined reflecting pools in the lobby. It's a far cry from Genzyme's previous headquarters a few blocks away, a series of long, narrow buildings originally occupied by a century-old woven-fire-hose maker. Still, although there's more actual space here—350,000 square feet—there's less personal space. Genzyme (which made $3.2 billion in sales last year, including $1 billion—plus from a drug treatment for a genetic enzyme deficiency) opted to create more common areas, as a means of boosting the site's collaborative potential.

"Most of the employees don't sit at their desks from 9 to 5," says Christof Jantzen, whose firm, Behnisch Architects, won a competition to design the building and studied the work patterns of Genzymites. "The whole building was created around the idea of a highly communicative work environment." With that in mind, informal meeting areas are scattered throughout: "business centers" on each floor, where the printers, copiers, faxes, and coffee machines are located; a few cushioned chairs placed together on an area rug; interior garden areas populated with trees (with names such as Rose Apple and Strawberry Guava, the gardens sound like Snapple flavors). "People often ask, How much did the building cost? How much are you saving on energy? How much are you saving on water?" Mattila says. (For the record, $140 million, 41%, and 32%.) "But if you can increase productivity, that's where you're going to get your payback." A survey done 18 months after the building opened found that 72% of the employees felt "more alert and productive" since moving into the building.

It stands to reason that Genzyme's ecotastic office has become a full-scale model for other architects looking to go green. But it has also turned out to be something of a recruiting tool. On almost every tour Mattila gives, the same question arises: "'Do you have any jobs here?'"

A version of this article appeared in the May 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.